Are Young Gay Men Relying Too Much On Monogamy As Protection From HIV?

Two men holding handsA new survey from the University of Glasgow has revealed some interesting trends in the sexual practices of young gay men in monogamous relationships.

While speaking at GAYCON 2014, the 5th National Conference for Scotland on Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health and Wellbeing, Nicola Boydell presented the results from a series of interviews she conducted with a group of 30 gay men ages 18 through 29 years.

Boydell asked the men what their thoughts were on condoms use. What she observed was that many of the subjects viewed bareback sex differently, depending on the nature of the relationship.

“Anal sex is more risky than any other type of sex,” one man said. “But with a regular partner [it] is less risky than with a casual partner.”

(Just for the record, this isn’t true. According to a 2010 study released by San Francisco State University, primary partners are a major source of HIV-infection.)

Another man said: “If it was just like a casual thing, I would always use condoms and then if we’re going out like, at the start, for like a couple of months, depending on the person, we would use a condom. Then after that, if like we trusted each other, if I trusted him, we wouldn’t.”

Boydell says that, while some respondents said both they and their partners underwent HIV testing before giving up condoms, others relied simply on the belief that, if their partner was HIV-positive, he would tell them. They also reported that being monogamous was enough for them to feel safe.

“At the moment we’re monogamous,” another man said. “But at the same time, we both appreciate other men, and there have been occasions when we’ve both been together with other guys, but we use protection in that instance.”

Boydell also says that, despite many of the men claiming to be in monogamous relationships, few had actually discussed the topic with their partners.

“I don’t think we’ve ever sat down and discussed [monogamy], but I know that’s… we must have discussed it in bits over time, because I just know that’s, that’s the case,” one man reported.

Boydell concluded that young gay men in relationships need to develop better ways of communicating around sex and HIV.

What do you think? Is a promise of monogamy enough for you to feel safe? And have you and your partner ever sat down to discuss what “being monogamous” really means? Sounds off in the comments section below.

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Graham Gremore is a columnist and contributor for Queerty and Life of the Law. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.